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Food as a reward/punishment

My DH and I both have struggled with food/weight/body image issues. We both were raised with families that saw food=love. Also, the clean plate club, no X until you clean your plate.
We now have a beautiful and amazing 3 YO niece. (No, really) We don't have human kids, by choice.
DH has had a conversation with the dad and the nana about forcing/bribing said princess to eat.
How do we help this little one not have our issues?

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  1. Walk away. Just walk away.

    As much as you love this child, this isn't your battle. I have an almost 3 year old. offer healthy foods, be very neutral on acceptance/rejection of them. Model healthy habits. Let her see you leave food on your plate, which is OKAY!

    Let her see you as a contrast to her home situation. A healthy food relationship. As she grows let her approach you. Being hands off and friendly will help her trust you later when it matters more

    1 Reply
    1. re: autumm

      Thank you. This is our plan. It helps having back up.

    2. Similarly, we don't have children (by choice) but have several nieces & nephews. We regard our job, as an uncle and aunt, as to be approachable & supportive to the kids but not to take sides if there is dispute with parents.

      It's interesting how they have different attitudes to food which, we think, relates to where they were raised. Two grew up in America, with one of their siblings raised in the UK. Another nephew grew up in Spain. The Spanish one has always had more of an interest in food. When they used to visit us, he would come to the supermarket with us and we'd always say he could have anything he wanted. It was always something from the fishgmonger - usually whitebait, which he'd eat with ketchup. Through his teens, we'd periodically take him out for a meal , often to an "ethnic" restaurant (something his parents would never do). He'd always say that he didnt always enjoy his meal but it was always an interesting experience. I doubt he could pay us a greater compliment.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Harters

        Proves the whole point of the book. The title could have been: Spanish or Italian or Greek or Portuguese kids.
        We once had a young French farm girl visit for a couple of weeks. I will never forget the look of bewilderment/amusement/shock/sadness/embarrassment/distain that came over her face when we watched the customers in front of us at the check-out line putting their 'groceries' on the conveyor.
        "They will eat this?". Hilarious.

      2. I find that more and more teens (both male and female), children of our grown-up friends, are exhibiting eating disorders. It could be anorexia, bulimia, refusal to eat most things, etc. One boy actually developed scurvy-like symptoms because he only ate french fries and steak. Absolutely refused to eat anything else... For months on end.
        When I ask the parents what they are doing about it, the usual answer is a shrug, and a "what can I do" attitude. Some parents say they have tried the "if you don't eat this, I'm not preparing you anything else" routine, and the kid inevitably doesn't eat, with the parent caving in after a day or two.
        Not sure what the best way to go is. With my grandchildren, all I can is take a very matter-of-fact manner and expose them to a ton of stuff I know they don't get at home. They usually relish it, but if they don't want to try, that's ok too.

          1. The ONLY input you may get to have is if the relatives ask you to take the niece in for "overnights". At this point you simply model good, healthy eating behaviors.

            You could also offer to watch the kiddo when she gets slightly older and chaperone such activities as hiking/running/walking.

            1. YOU don't. Not your child, not your call. Bringing it up to the parent and I assume nana is grandparent crosses over that "mind your business" boundary that exists when the child in question is not your child. When you have a child, you can raise them any way you see fit provided you're not abusive.

              All you can do is set a healthy example in front of the child when the child is in your presence. Don't use food as a reward or a punishment when you're babysitting. Make healthy food choices when eating around the child and serve them healthy foods when they are at your house. Don't make food "an issue" around them. But anything above and beyond that...not your call.

              1. establish 'house rules' if it's not too disruptive: "the only food encouraged/discouraged to eat under this roof is what is hated and even then only in the quantities we can provide"

                may not always be healthy but you create an occasional refuge of sorts. otherwise unless a true issue emerges I'd just back off. if she (and we do believe she's "beautiful and amazing") becomes 12, of average height and yet weighs 60 lbs, then yes intervention and concern are called for.

                besides kids have weird ideas about food and I am thoroughly convinced a completely different metabolism to match.

                1. I agree with the basic notions put forth by most of those who have already commented - there is little you can do. Sadly, parents fuck up their kids. They may not mean to, but, in one way or another, they do. There is a reason the overwhelming majority of adults display some degree of psychological/emotional troubles.

                  One thing you might consider is to continue to work on and resolve your own issues. Examples are very powerful guides. As your niece gets older, she may need to seek advice for those she perceives to be healthy. Be those healthy people - emotionally and physically. It appears your both on the right track.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MGZ

                    One of my favourite gifts to give young family members when they were growing up was a box full of the best canned and packaged strictly European food items.
                    I'd go to Dutch/Spanish/Italian/German/French/Greek specialty shops and ask for advice about what this or that tin/package contained.
                    I'd buy the best quality sardines and other sea food like octopus. Best mustards/biscuits/pickles/jams/smoked meats/cheeses. You name it. The idea was to broaden the kid's culinary horizons. Things they would never have bought or tried before.
                    This year for Christmas they are all going to get one of those boxes. Just for old times sake.
                    I'm starting to collect for the boxes today!

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      Can I be on your Christmas list? My daughter just turned five and will eat almost anything. Unless grandpa is in the room, then no brussel sprouts, my dad hates them. ;)

                  2. Buy the book: "French Kids Eat Everything" by Karen Le Billon. Read it. Follow the authors guidance. That's literally the only book you need.
                    'Game changer' for a family IF followed. (Not very likely in this culture sadly for the kid in later years).

                    1. yeah, really agree with others, that if she eats in your home (unless you've been explicitly ordered to do otherwise; I hope not) just go by your own "house rules". No comments, no lectures to your inlaws. I've seen stuff my SIL and BIL do that I don't agree with, but honestly it's none of my business.

                      1. Something no one has touched-- the "reward" part.
                        It will be nearly automatic to suggest going out for ice cream after a ballgame, or providing candy at Easter, or hosting a special birthday meal.

                        Start thinking NOW about what your alternatives are - because it IS true that rewards and celebrations are both good and necessary.
                        We did DVD's from the tooth fairy.
                        You can try bead shopping/ bracelet making at Easter to create something for self and for Mothers' day [right around the corner after Easter].
                        Every alternative to a "food reward/ celebration" doesn't have to be some "righteous," oppositional form of exercise, or you're creating another loop of unhealthy attitudes.
                        Instead, find something that you can do together -- antiquing [it's like a treasure hunt!]; midnight movies; museums and art houses; bookstores; even the library, thrift stores and volunteering.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Kris in Beijing

                          IMO rewarding a kid for doing something essential for life is jus as bad as punishing a kid for not eating. It turns into a power-struggle and a control issue. Just read the book I recommended. The whole premise is never to reward or punish. The result of doing that is never a positive one for anyone.

                          1. re: Puffin3

                            I think the point was the notion of using food rewards for other things like "if you get x grade on a test then we'll take you out for ice cream".

                            I second the notion that in regards to things like birthdays, holidays, celebratory moments and having lots of ideas of how to celebrate without food is essential. My mother is a dietician (which has come with allllll of its own food baggage) but one thing she did while we were growing up that I think really worked was that she 'bought back' our Halloween candy. So we'd go out trick or treating with our friends, get all this candy - and then each piece was 5 or 10 cents. She would vary how much candy we could eat the night of Halloween (putting a limit on how many pieces when we were younger) - but as we got older and a bit more "money savvy" - we self regulated that pretty well. It also worked really well because it was one of our mother's "food things" that didn't feel embarrassing around our friends because we could be "normal" trick or treaters with our peers.

                            Basically - there are all sorts of rewards set up in our culture that are food oriented (it's someone's birthday - cake for everybody!) - and so finding fun rewards appropriate for the occasion that aren't food can take more thinking.

                            1. re: cresyd

                              Thank you for saying clearly what I thought I was saying!

                              Also, in many families/ cultures, if we get together, we get together For Food. The rock wall climbing morning is followed by lunch out, and we spend a lot of time agonizing about where to go eat; the trip to the outdoor concert is really a "moveable feast;" the 2 hour drive to see something worthwhile is punctuated with side trips to "Good Eats."

                              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                Not to mention parents who seem to buy into the idea that a kid can't survive an hour and a half soccer game without snacks at both halftime and following the game. My kids are well past that age thank goodness, and somehow they survive hours and hours without any sustenance!

                                1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                  Yes - I actually think this is where an aunt/uncle can really put a lot of time and thought into how to be positive and celebratory without it functioning around food.

                                  The cost of a piece of a single piece of candy (or ice cream cone, or soda, or cookie, etc.) can be fairly low when comparing that to similarly priced non-food items. So this is where taking time and energy to think of those non-food items that aren't necessarily out and out presents does take some creativity, paying attention to a child's evolving interests, etc.

                          2. How to get your kid to eat.. But not too much by Ellyn Satter comes highly recommended by many RDs. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0915950...

                            Otherwise I agree with most of the other posters that since this is not your child, the best you can do is model healthy behaviors.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ohmyyum

                              Love that book! It really helped my husband understand the concept of it's no big deal, neutral, here's your food, it's your job kid to eat it.

                            2. Lead by example.
                              Don't yuck their yums.
                              Make non-food rewards the norm instead of candy/cake/crap.
                              Don't use food to bribe.
                              Involve them in shopping/cooking.
                              Visit farmers markets w/ seasonal produce.
                              Don't go overboard (e.g. Halloween, Easter candy).

                                1. As a parent of 3 young kids I can honestly say there are always 2 sides to every story. I totally support most of the suggestions given below, but there could be another side to the story. My middle child, also a 3 year old, often chooses to not eat dinner. When this happens he is up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep (last night this happened). He needs parental help in learning that eating at dinner time will help him sleep and function better the next day - us too, since we're the ones up with him at ungodly hours. He is also quite picky but needs a lot of encouragement to try something. Once he does he usually eats enough to get him through the night. It is quite exhausting but ultimately we feel we are doing the best thing for his growth and development. Occasionally the lure of dessert is enough, sometimes it's not. It's never as easy as it looks.